Radical Leadership: Part Two of a Three-Part Series

​In part one of this series on Radical Leadership, I focused on the need for high emotional intelligence (or EQ) in order to successfully navigate relationships. This is particularly important for a leader who is required to be self-aware and reflective in myriad circumstances. I also shared the importance of data needed to take calculated risks and make thoughtful decisions. I drew the contrast between the smart use of data, versus allowing it to become a source of addiction, paralyzing leaders from making any decision – risky or otherwise.

In this series, I offer two more traits for exploration as part of ‘Jo’s Radical Leadership Trait Theory’.

Relentless Decision-Making

Effective decision making is a complex leadership trait to acquire or develop. Part of this complexity is rooted in the fact that decision making is multi-faceted.

For starters, it’s important to know what decisions need to be made, and where they need to be made within a company. In June 2010, the Harvard Business Review article entitled, The Decision-Driven Organization. the authors (Blenko, Mankins and Rogers, June 2010) outlined the different types of decisions. Every company should understand the ‘category’ of their decisions, distinguishing between the big, high-impact decisions and the smaller, routine decisions made daily. Ensuring that the decisions themselves are strategically identified at the right levels of the organization is paramount to tracking progress and outcomes as a leader. Not everyone needs to be involved in everything. Further, if every decision has been given the same degree of importance and rigor, there’s a leadership failure…somewhere.

Secondly, once a decision is made, that same article walks the reader through the effectiveness of decisions: “quality (whether decisions proved to be right more often than not), speed (whether decisions were made faster or slower than competitors), yield (how well decisions were translated into action), and effort (the time, trouble, and expense required for each key decision).” I think we all know of experiences where the energy expended in making decisions hardly justified the outcome. These are clearly the situations that breed and nurture cynicism across multiple corridors of Corporate America. Radical Leaders are called to ensure that those situations are in the clear minority.

Once the types and locations of decisions are identified, along with an assessment of their effectiveness, a radical leader truly knows who owns the decision. Many models have evolved over the years in business to capture the specific roles inherent in and critical to decision making. Whether it’s the RACI model or the RAPID model – roles and accountabilities must be clearly defined. Otherwise, as the expression goes, if everyone has the ‘D’ – no one has the ‘D’. Relentless decision makers not only understand this, but they will refuse to move an initiative forward unless everyone on the team can recite these roles and accountabilities in their sleep.

Relentless decision-making is, indeed, complex – but is completely attainable as a leadership trait. It requires rigor, discipline and a desire to make a few key decisions with excellence, rather than a host of decisions poorly.

Authentic Truth-Telling

This is one trait that I believe cannot be taught. A leader may be able to get a bit better at it, but they’re either pre-disposed to being authentic – or not. Authenticity is closely tied to the radical leadership trait of high emotional intelligence. A leader’s ability to be at once self-aware and vulnerable, closes all gaps between what they say and do in private v. public. Radical leaders with the authentic truth-telling trait, are not afraid to show their weaknesses (to reasonable degrees, of course). They make mistakes, they demonstrate emotions, and they let their teams know that while results matter, authenticity in relationships also matters.

Authentic truth-tellers tend to communicate with real precision. Their memos and speeches are devoid of jargon and business buzzwords. Their authentic voice is read and felt through their communications – whether those communications are good news or bad. Consider this communication from Fab CEO’s Jason Goldberg in an open letter to his employees in April of 2014:

“What is Fab right now? Right now it's a ----- startup. It's really hard. It's intense. It's a struggle. It's ambiguous. It changes a lot. It's all consuming. It's a lot of sausage making. It's working weekends to hit numbers and dates. It's stretching people beyond their comfort zone. It's insisting on doing it better even when it's already pretty good. It's being brutally honest about gaps and weaknesses. It's one day you're headed in one direction and the next day another, because the first move wasn't the best move. It's being ok with things not working because that creates opportunities to learn how to fix it…..”

This may not have garnered high levels of employee retention after its issuance, but it was authentic and it was the truth….and I suspect that is what mattered more to Jason Goldberg.

In the third and final part of this series, I will cover two radical leadershi​p traits that are often fraught with the pressures of societal norms and expectations. Stay tuned!

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